Butler Press Conference | Cleveland State Press Conference | Milwaukee Press Conference | Valpo Press Conference
MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Butler is making its six straight appearance in the Horizon League Men's Basketball Championship game, while Milwaukee returns after a four-year absence, after the Bulldogs out-muscled Cleveland State and the Panthers outlasted Valpo in the semifinals on Tuesday night.
Butler (22-9) matched the League record held by Xavier (1986-1991), downing Cleveland State (26-8), 76-68, to reach the final game for the sixth consecutive year. Shawn Vanzant had all of his team-high 18 points in the second half, converting 4-of-5 attempts from three-point range as the Bulldogs knocked off the Vikings for the third time this year.
The senior saved his biggest shot for his third three of the game, coming after Norris Cole had brought the Vikings within 60-58 with just over five minutes on the clock. The senior drilled a triple from the right wing, pushing the Butler lead to five and then followed up with another trey to build the bulge to eight. The Tampa, Fla.-native added six more points in the closing minutes.
Never trailing, Butler came out of the gates behind Andrew Smith, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half, helping open up the perimeter for Shelvin Mack and Chase Stigall, each of whom hit two first half threes.
Cleveland State got a game-high 24 points from Norris Cole, who set the League single-season record for free throws after a 9-for-9 effort gave him 214 on the year. The senior went 24-for-24 in the League Tournament, the best mark in tournament history. Trevon Harmon added 18, helping the Vikings stay within striking distance until Vanzant exploded in the final 13 minutes of play.
Mack added 15, while Matt Howard posted an efficient 14 points and eight boards.
The Bulldogs will be looking for their first win of the season over Milwaukee (19-12), who advanced to the League championship for the first time since 2006 with a 70-63 win over Valparaiso (23-11). Getting to the free-throw line on a regular basis, the Panthers outscored the Crusaders, 24-5, at the charity stripe, repeatedly being rewarded for taking the ball to the basket.
Kaylon Williams sparked the game's decisive burst, answering Brandon Wood's three with one of his own and then backing it up with another to put the Panthers ahead, 55-47, with 10:48 remaining in the game. Valparaiso would get no closer than two possessions the rest of the way, coming as close as 64-60 on an Erik Buggs layup with just over two minutes left. However, Buggs missed his ensuing free throw and two offensive rebounds on the next Panther possession ate up nearly a minute of valuable clock.
Six free throws the rest of the way locked up the championship berth for Milwaukee.
Anthony Hill was the primary beneficiary of getting to the free-throw line, as the First Team All-League pick toed the charity stripe to the tune of 10-for-13 shooting while going 7-of-11 from the field. Finishing with 24 points, Hill was joined in double figures by Williams' 16.
Wood's 24 points were offset by Hill, as the junior finished with an average of 27 points in two games at U.S. Cellular Arena. Cory Johnson added 14, but was limited to just 19 minutes because of foul trouble.
Butler and Milwaukee are meeting for the third time for the right to carry the Horizon League banner into the NCAA Tournament, with the Panthers taking both meetings, coming in 2003 (69-52) and 2006 (87-71).